MIAMI GARDENS — It’s not enough that the University of Miami keeps swiping the ball from opponents. It’s not enough to see the turnover chain getting passed around faster than a baton in a relay race. It’s not enough that Ed Reed is hanging around all week and letting everybody know how big-time players show up in big-time games.
No. This has to be done with a certain panache, just like the old University of Miami teams did it.
And so, by the time the deafening noise inside sold-out Hard Rock Stadium was history and the No. 7 Hurricanes had blown out No. 3 Notre Dame 41-8, all that was left was to learn how this night was even more perfect than it appeared.
By late in the first half, if there was any doubt where this thing was headed, freshman Trajan Bandy returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown and a pinch-yourself 27-0 lead. Given the final score and that it was just one of four interceptions by UM, it could have gotten lost in the shuffle.
But here’s the thing: The play was by special request from one UM coach. And it was predicted by another coach over the headsets just seconds before it occurred.
Apparently, when you’re completing your fourth consecutive game with at least four takeaways, things like this happen.
Coach Mark Richt, who calls UM’s plays, normally is on the offensive coaches’ line on his headset but happened to flip his switch to eavesdrop on the defensive guys just before the play.
“Trajan’s going to intercept this pass,” Richt heard those coaches say.
“And lo and behold … ,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “But the credit goes to Mark, because Mark walked into our defensive staff room during the week and said, ‘Isn’t it about time you guys score on defense?’ And I told him, ‘You know how hard it is to go all this way and not score on purpose, just to save it for a big game like this?’
“So really, Mark gets the credit for reminding us to score.”
Who could blame the Hurricanes for feeling giddy? Notre Dame came in averaging 41.3 points and 324.8 rushing yards per game. It left with 109 rushing yards, averaging 3.0 per carry (well under its 7.0 average) and with 261 total yards, narrowly averting a shutout. Against an offensive line that has NFL scouts hovering every week, the Hurricanes had nine tackles for 29 yards in losses.
“I knew it was going to be magical,” said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who had five tackles. “That’s exactly what it was.”
In the end, it was hard to decipher what was more impressive: UM’s run defense or its pass defense. The four interceptions led to 24 points.
“They were struggling blocking our guys,” Richt said.
“I think they took offense to the assertion that we would have a hard time stopping the run game,” Diaz said. “I think that’s where it all began. I think early on, that was what set the tone, making us hard to run on. It’s always a formula — make it hard to run on, force the quarterback into making mistakes, and that’s what happened.”
It’s not anything pro football fans in Baltimore didn’t get used to back when Reed and another ex-Hurricane, Ray Lewis, were running the show for the Ravens. Reed attended practice last week and delivered a speech to the team Friday night. On Saturday night, he was right there on UM’s sideline, egging on players and fans to keep this thing rolling.
“Ed Reed is standing there,” Diaz said. “How does that not make everyone want to improve their play?”
By now, the nation has figured out that as soon as UM grabs a takeaway, out comes the “turnover chain,” a gaudy, 5 1/2-pound, 10-karat gold chain that has proven to be nothing short of a stroke of genius by Diaz. The Irish began the night with those gold helmets polished to a blinding luster, but the Hurricanes still shined brightest. Jonathan Garvin, another freshman, had an interception. Jacquan Johnson, who led UM with eight tackles, grabbed one. Malek Young? Step right up and claim yours.
“I think most people see our kids are just having fun with it,” Richt said of the chain. “They’re not trying to be anything but enjoying, celebrating something. People have a different way to celebrate a turnover. We’re not the first ones to do that. We’ve just got the best one.”
Diaz, a native Miamian who grew up seeing the Hurricanes beating a lot of teams by four touchdowns, will take it.
“To me, national order is restored,” he said. “This is the way a Saturday night in Miami should be.”